When one partner has cancer, both people are affected. Breast cancer can challenge relationships that previously felt comfortable and secure, but it can also bring a couple closer together as you deal with the disease as a team. Good communication is key to ensuring that both partners’ needs are being met. Lack of communication can lead to feelings of isolation, frustration, and bitterness.
How might my partner’s diagnosis affect our relationship?
Just as all cases of breast cancer are unique, all couples are unique. That’s why it’s difficult to predict how your partner’s diagnosis will affect your relationship. It’s likely that your partner’s diagnosis may add some stress to your life as a couple. The stress experienced by couples may stem from different sources, such as:
- the emotions associated with the diagnosis
- the upset of daily routines
- new financial pressures
- changing roles within the relationship
- changes in physical intimacy
- uncertainty about the future
For some couples, there may be challenges as each partner learns to both give and receive support, to express feelings and needs openly.
How a couple goes about dealing with these issues varies widely from one relationship to another. If you have trouble working through these issues it may be helpful to seek professional counselling. You can ask your health care team for recommendations.
How might my partner’s breast cancer affect how we are intimate with each other?
Be aware that intimacy and sex may change. Your partner may be having a hard time dealing with the changes to her body from surgery and other treatments. She needs time to adjust to her new body. It can be helpful to reassure your partner that you love her throughout her journey with breast cancer.
Her sex drive may also have decreased. The fatigue associated with undergoing cancer treatment, drug side effects, and the emotional strain of cancer itself can contribute to a lowered sex drive.
You may also be worried that touching your partner intimately after breast cancer surgery may cause her pain – it’s always best to be open about your fears and ask her how she is feeling. Discuss how you and your partner can express affection in ways that are meaningful and comfortable for you both.
How can I best support my partner emotionally?
- Be a good listener – allow her to voice her feelings and fears
- Be open and non-judgmental – respect her feelings and support her decisions
- Be honest – let her know how you are feeling
- Don’t assume that you know what she is feeling or what her needs are – ask her
- Tell your partner that you love her and are not going anywhere, that you’ll be by her side throughout her breast cancer journey
- Allow her the time and space she needs to grieve her diagnosis and loss
- Respect that your partner may have a different coping style than you do
- Care for yourself and keep healthy, both physically and emotionally
What are the practical things I can do to best support my partner?
- Go with her to her medical appointments
- Discuss which tasks need doing and organize them
- Try to maintain ordinary routines, so there is a sense of normalcy for your partner and children if you have them
- If you have children, take them out to give her a break
- Learn about her diagnosis and treatment options, so you can help her make informed decisions. The Canadian Cancer Society can offer you current and credible information.
I’m having a hard time coping with my partner’s diagnosis – what should I do?
You may be experiencing many of the same feelings that your partner is, such as anger, sadness, anxiety, and fear. You might have the natural urge to “fix” things, and it can be frustrating to be faced with something over which you have no control.
All these feelings are normal. It can be helpful to speak with others who are also caring for a partner with cancer. There may be a support group that meets in your area for partners or caregivers. There are also online communities and discussion forums.
You may find you need the assistance of a professional counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist to help you deal with your feelings and develop coping skills. Seeking professional help when you need it is a sign of strength, not weakness, so don’t be afraid to get the help you need.
Remember, you can always speak with a member of our Breast Cancer Support & Information Team about your concerns. Call us at 1-888-778-3100.
Links to more information
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Couplelinks – a professionally facilitated, online workshop for couples affected by breast cancer
Information for Partners
Breast Cancer Network Australia
Being the Partner
Breast Cancer Care UK